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Beverly C. Tyler

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A typical home and farm of settlers in Setauket about 1665. From the book, ‘Discover Setauket, Brookhaven’s Original Settlement,’ by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Part one of two.

I have always been interested in discovering the history of our ancestors, the stories of the people in our families who came before us. I wanted to learn about where they came from and why they left the places they lived and came to America. The more I learned, the more curious I became.

I also wanted to find out more about the people, places and events that surrounded their lives. In the cartoon “Peanuts,” Sally, Charlie Brown’s sister, once said, “I don’t know much about the past, I wasn’t there.”

“I enjoy learning about the past by searching through the records left by the people who were there.”

— Beverly C. Tyler

I enjoy learning about the past by searching through the records left by the people who were there. I enjoy putting together the pieces of our families’ history and telling their stories. I hope you will enjoy their stories, too, as shared with my grandchildren.

Two of Setauket’s early settlers, the Rev. Nathaniel Brewster, your ninth great-grandfather on your grandmother’s side, and William Jayne, your eighth great-grandfather on your grandfather’s side — my sixth great-grandfather — were both born in the port city of Bristol, in South West England. Their family lines have crisscrossed through British and Setauket history for more than 300 years. Their stories show how the actions of kings and rulers in England helped to shape the early history of Setauket and the Town of Brookhaven.

Brewster accepted a call to be the first minister of the new settlement at Setauket in 1665. The settlement was only 10 years old and had about 30 families — the minimum they felt was necessary to support calling a minister. I know he came here then because the Town of Brookhaven records for that year indicate that a Setauket resident named Mathew Prior sold his home and property, including his young apple and other fruit trees, to the officers of the town for the minister’s accommodation.

Some 10 years later, William Jayne together with 11 other families, came to Setauket from New Haven, Connecticut. Land was being opened up here for settlement, and they all received home lots and were welcomed into the growing community.

Brewster’s grandfather, Francis the elder, was the resident steward of Bristol Castle for Sir John Stafford, a knight and leader of the city of Bristol. His son, the young Francis, served as an apprentice to a barber surgeon and was admitted to the guild of surgeons around the same time he was married. The first child of young Francis with wife Lucy was Nathaniel. When Stafford died, King Charles I leased Bristol Castle directly to Brewster the elder. The son, Dr. Francis Brewster, wife Lucy and their family were also living inside the castle grounds. After the elder Brewster died, the castle was sold to the city of Bristol. Three years later, in 1637, Dr. Brewster and his family left London with the Davenport party on the ship Hector bound for Boston and eventual settlement in the colony of New Haven.

After the family arrived, Nathaniel Brewster was admitted to Harvard College. On the 1641 list of New Haven families, Francis Brewster is listed as having a family of nine and an estate worth 1,000 pounds. The only wealthier settler was the governor, Theophilus Eaton.

In 1642, Nathaniel Brewster graduated from Harvard together with eight other “young gentlemen,” the first graduating class from the first American college. In 1647, Francis Brewster was lost at sea when a ship in which he had a financial interest went down while on a voyage to England.

In England in 1649, King Charles I was executed and Oliver Cromwell came to power. Cromwell was a fanatical Puritan, and his influence was spread well beyond the borders of Britain — England, Ireland and Scotland. These events may have had a great influence on the young Rev. Nathaniel Brewster, a minister in the Puritan colony of Massachusetts. About 1650, Brewster returned to England and served as minister of various churches in Norfolk, East Anglia, on England’s east coast. He was married after 1650 to a daughter of John Reymes of Edgefield, Norfolk, and they had two children, Abigail, born about 1655, and Sarah, born in 1656.

Cromwell took the oath as lord protector of the Commonwealth of England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland in December 1653. He made Presbyterianism the national religion, and he purged the Anglican bishops while at the same time promoting a new freedom of worship. If you think it is strange to have freedom of religion and at the same time have a national-sponsored religion, you are right. It happened here, too, when the pilgrims in Plymouth Colony and the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony kicked Roger Williams out for practicing his own form of religion.

“What do you think? These two men meet in Setauket. Is it the first time or had they known each other before?”

— Beverly C. Tyler

In 1655, the Rev. Nathaniel Brewster made a trip to Ireland in the company of Henry Cromwell, fourth son of Oliver Cromwell. Brewster also served for a time as minister of Christ Church, Dublin, Ireland. When Oliver Cromwell died of malaria and typhoid fever in London in September 1658, his son Richard tried to carry on as lord protector, but was forced to resign in May 1659. In 1660, Charles II, who had fled England after his father’s execution, was proclaimed king. Suddenly Presbyterianism was no longer the national religion of England, the Anglican Church was restored to power, and the harassment of the nonconformists — anyone not belonging to the Anglican Church — started again. Brewster fled back to America. He came to Boston where he preached for several months at the First Church in Boston. I’ll bet he was glad to get safely out of England.

About the same time that Brewster left England, another nonconformist, William de Jeanne, came to America to escape persecution. When he arrived in New England, he changed his name to Jayne to hide his identity. The lives of these two Englishmen from Bristol were about to cross again. Jayne had been born Jan. 25, 1618. He was the son of Henry de Jeanne, a lecturer of theology and divinity at Oxford University. Jayne was admitted to Oxford but was expelled as a dissenter. He became a Presbyterian preacher, eventually joined Oliver Cromwell’s army and was appointed as one of Cromwell’s chaplains. After the restoration of King Charles II, Jayne fled from England.

Leaving England must not have been easy for Jayne. He left behind a wife and three sons. We don’t know his family’s situation or why he emigrated alone, but his three sons could have easily been in their 20s. He shows up in American records when he is married to Anna Beggs in 1674 in New Haven, Connecticut. The next year the couple moved to the Setauket settlement. It is most likely that Brewster encouraged Jayne to move from New Haven to Setauket.

What do you think? These two men meet in Setauket. Is it the first time or had they known each other before?

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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A photo of a partly destroyed French church was taken by Lt. Marco C. Smith Jr. in 1918. Photo from the Smith family

By Beverly C. Tyler

On Nov. 15, 1918, Lt. Marco Carmelich Smith Jr. wrote to his grandmother Eliza Tyler from France: “To say the least, one can live somewhat in peace, now that the Armistice is signed. Beforehand we had had rumors of one but as old Lame Rumor is always present we passed it off as such until the official notice came. We all had our watches out at 11 a.m. on [Nov.] 11th and it was very noticeable that cannon that had been thundering away all morning ceased firing exactly on the hour. So now, as I say, we can live in peace. No more gas masks or helmets, and at night we can have all the light we want.”

A 1918 photo of Marco C. Smith in uniform. Photo from the Smith family

Smith was born Oct. 2, 1886, at his father’s family home, called Fairholme, which was built circa 1824 and expanded circa 1860, in what is now the Village of Old Field. His great-great-grandfather, Walter Smith, a descendant of one of Setauket’s original settlers, Arthur Smith, was the Old Field Point Lighthouse keeper from 1827 to 1830. Marco Smith’s father, the first Marco C. Smith married Mary Amelia Tyler, daughter of Charles and Eliza Tyler, this writer’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother.

Marco Smith Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Army July 8, 1918, and was commissioned as 1st Lt. of Engineers, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Engineers. He was first assigned to Fort Benjamin Harrison, near Indianapolis, Indiana, and then transferred to Camp Merritt in Bergen County, New Jersey, where troops boarded ships on their way to the war in Europe.

Smith was on leave briefly July 28, when he married in Mamaroneck, Marjorie Aldrich, daughter of Capt. Clarence Aldrich and Irene Hand of East Setauket. According to a newspaper clipping, “Military orders hastened the ceremony, and the groom is now supposed to be on his way to France.”

Smith sailed for France July 31. He was assigned to the 1st Army Aug. 28, as an engineer on light railway construction for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive until the end of the war Nov. 11. He spent most of his time in the area around the village of Montigny-sur-Meuse and continued to be stationed there until March 3, 1919.

On Dec. 16, 1918, Smith wrote: “My dear Grandma, Here it is past the middle of the month and I haven’t started my usual monthly letter to you so here goes for this evening.”

Smith noted that the mail was arriving more regularly since the Armistice and that he had just received a letter from his grandmother written Oct. 18 as well as one written by his mother and dad Nov. 27. He continued the letter: “Sometimes I marvel that I am not sick as we sure are subjected to some pretty severe conditions at times. One night I just slept on the wet ground in a pouring rain and felt fine the next day. … We are very historically located too being near to Dun [Dun-sur-Meuse], Stenay and Sedan. This was sure some hard earned ground as everywhere are evidences of many battles. I believe the part where we were tho’ is about as bad as any. We sure thought so at the time. … Lord, when you see some of the shells old ‘Fritz’ uses to amuse us with, it’s no wonder we were “alarmed” at times. But after all, most of my feelings go to the poor French people who are slowly returning to their destroyed homes. … How they are going to make a go of it this winter is beyond me. … and the tales they tell of the hardships endured while prisoners. They are barely believable. I cannot write of them; they are too sad. Loads & loads & loads of love for yourself and everyone, Your loving grandson Marco — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

Marco C. Smith and his wife Marjorie in an undated photo. Photo from the Smith family

In his Jan. 22, 1919, letter, Smith writes: “Just now we are trying to arrange for some pleasure trips for the men. They have been my faithful workers ever since the drive began on Sept. 26th. And it has been rather tiresome and tedious to them to have seen nothing but shell torn areas since that date. The trip we are planning for them is to Sedan which is only about 25 miles from here.”

The three villages mentioned by Smith — Dun-sur-Meuse, Stenay and Sedan — are between 29 and 40 kilometers northeast of Verdun, site of the longest lasting battle of World War I. During 1916, there were more than 300,000 French and German casualties there.

Smith was reassigned to the engineers office, District of Paris, from March 10 to June 3, 1919. He returned from overseas July 11 and was discharged July 31, 1919. On Feb. 21, 1920, he was commissioned a captain in the Engineer Reserve Corps. He returned home to his wife Marjorie, with a house in Brooklyn and a job in Manhattan as an engineer with the New York Central Railroad. According to family information, Smith and his wife maintained the house in Old Field as a summer home until four months after their first child, Marco C. Smith III, was born April 25, 1927. Smith became a trustee of the Village of Old Field when it was incorporated in 1927, and he also served the village as mayor. The couple’s second and last child, Judith, was born Aug. 9, 1932. Marjorie died in 1953 and Smith died July 8, 1961.

The three letters Smith wrote to his grandmother Eliza, written between Nov. 15, 1918, and Jan. 22, 1919, and copies of the photographs he took in France will now be a part of the Three Village Historical Society archival collection.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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Setauket residents, above, honored veterans at a parade Sept. 1, 1919, along Shore Road in East Setauket. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

By Beverly C. Tyler 

It was Nov. 11, 1918, and World War I had come to an end for the Americans fighting in Europe.

Two who did not return to Setauket were memorialized at a ceremony on the Village Green at the end of a parade Sept. 1, 1919, as reported by the Port Jefferson Times.

Soldiers Ralph Lyon and Bill Byron at the local memorial. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

“With the service men in uniform standing stiffly at attention and the civilians with bared heads, the entire assemblage united in singing ‘America’ and the Rev. T.J. Elms opened the meeting with a prayer. Judge Watson then introduced the speakers of the day, the first being Admiral Niblack. Admiral Niblack made many friends when he was here with the fleet last summer, many of whom were in the crowd.

“The Rev. T.J. Elms then dedicated a rock to the memory of the Setauket boys who died in the war — Raymond Wishart and Harry Golden. The Community Chorus, led by Mr. & Mrs. W.H. Stewart Jr., sang a patriotic song and an army officer addressed the gathering.

“Those boys of Setauket who had been denied the privilege of giving their lives in the great cause were then presented with suitably inscribed medals. Mrs. Wishart received a medal for her son and Mr. Golden for his boy. The ceremonies concluded with a benediction by Father Roex and the singing of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’”

A plaque, originally placed in a monument on the grounds of the East Setauket Veterans Memorial is now in the entrance foyer of the Setauket Elementary School. The memorial metal plaque reads: “Erected in honor of those of Setauket and East Setauket who served in the World War.”

Those named are: Irving R Addis, Thomas F. Bowen, Edwin Brown, Fred K.M. Brown, Jacob Brown, James Brown, Joel W. Brown, Wilson Brown, John H. Bristol, Lewellyn Bristol, Edwin M. Bryant, Charles Buchanan, Leroy J. Buchanan, Charles Buehrman, William J. Byron, Eversley Childs Jr., William H.H. Childs, John Darling, Louis L. Darling, Roger P. Dodge, Mary Elderkin, Julius Freedman, Louis Freedman, Nathan Gerstein, Howard Gibb, Harry Golden, Leon Goldberg, Max Goldberg, Edward T. Grahm, Alfred A. Hawkins, Floyd B. Hawkins, Daniel H. Hawkins, George R. Hawkins, Irving Hart, William B. Hart, Leo M. Heath, Hattie D. Jayne, Lester H. Jayne, Theodore Junk, Cornelius Kiendl, Theodore Kiendl, Oliver D. Lyon, Ralph S. Lyon, Archibald McLaren, Percy W. Macauley, George R. Mohlman, David A. O’Leary, John A. Payne M.D., Walter W. Peters, Edward H. Pfeiffer, William F. Pfeiffer, Samuel Pinnes, Russell G. Rogers, C. Lawrence Rossiter Jr., Frank F. Schields, Silas Seaman, Albert Sells, Charles W. Sells, Joseph Sells, William S. Sells, Willis H. Skidmore, Marco C. Smith Jr., Frank L. Stenken, Caroline H. Strong, Thomas S. Strong, Harold Terrell, Raymond L. Terrell, Annie R. Tinker, Edward L. Tinker, Handford M. Twitchell, Pierrepont E. Twitchell, Leon J. Tyler, John Walker, Harvey H. West, George H. West, Ernest West, Percy H. West, David L. Wishart, Raymond Wishart, Stanley G. Wood.

Setauket residents, above, honored veterans at a parade Sept. 1, 1919, along Shore Road in East Setauket. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

There is no existing plaque or memorial for the men from Stony Brook who served in World War I. However, a card file of nearly 4,500 World War I veterans was made by the Suffolk County Records Committee and listed these names for Stony Brook:

James Wesley Beldon, Ernest Merwin Bennett, John Oscar Bennett, Stephen Bochinski, Archibald Manning Brown, Nelson David Combs, Frederick Ebenezer Darling, Russell Eugene Darling, George Vincent Davis, Lee Fitshugh Davis, William Sidney Davis, Alexander Findlay, Ross Comrade Findlay, Joseph Gumbus, Frederick Brewster Hawkins, Homer Stanley Hawkins, Charles Lundgren, Frederick A. Mielke, Herman Oakley Newton, Herbert Nichols, Charles Clifford Peterman, Arthur LeRoy Platt, Benjamin Merton Powell, Stanley Russell Rogers, Frank Anton Schaefer, George Washington Schaefer, Paul Eugene Schaefer, William Henry Harrison Shipman, Jay Lawrence Smith, Robert Merwin Smith, Joseph Stufkosky, Robert Hawkins Topping, George Aloysius Wilson, Wilmot Smith Wood, Richard Lawrence Woodhull, Charles Halsey Young.

Remembering … this year

The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission — along with the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, the Society of the Honor Guard: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars — is inviting American citizens and organizations to toll bells in their communities as a WWI remembrance. The event, Bells of Peace: A World War I Remembrance, will take place Sunday, Nov. 11, at 11 a.m. local time.

The centennial commission has created a page on its website: www.ww1cc.org/bells.

The National World War I Museum and Memorial, in Kansas City, Missouri, opened in 2006 to national acclaim. Since then, more than two million people have visited the museum including Frank Buckles, America’s last surviving WWI veteran, who visited the museum and memorial over Memorial Day weekend in 2008. During World War II, he was captured and spent three-and-a-half years in Japanese prison camps at Santo Tomas and Los Baños in the Philippines. Buckles died Feb. 27, 2011, in Charles Town, West Virginia, at the age of 110.

In 2014, the museum and memorial received a second designation from Congress, effectively recognizing it as a national memorial. The museum is “dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community.”

The museum began as the Liberty Memorial, dedicated Nov. 11, 1926, by President Calvin Coolidge who said the memorial “has not been raised to commemorate war and victory, but rather the results of war and victory which are embodied in peace and liberty. … Today I return in order that I may place the official sanction of the national government upon one of the most elaborate and impressive memorials that adorn our country. The magnitude of this memorial, and the broad base of popular support on which it rests, can scarcely fail to excite national wonder and admiration.”

The Liberty Memorial began as a dynamic addition to Kansas City’s cultural offerings, but by 1994, it had to be closed due to safety concerns. Then state, federal and individual donors raised $102 million for the memorial, and an extensive museum restoration and expansion. In 2004, the building was designated by Congress as the nation’s official World War I Museum, and construction started on a new 80,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art museum with the Edward Jones Research Center underneath the memorial. The site was designated a National Historic Landmark Sept. 20, 2006.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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At a Labor Day celebration on the Village Green in 1919, above, Setauket’s Ernest West is second from right in the front row; George West is second from right, fourth row; Harvey West is third from left, third row. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

By Beverly C. Tyler

“Victory and Peace,” the headline proclaimed, “War Ends — Fighting Ceased at 6 a.m. Monday.” It was Nov. 11, 1918, and World War I had come to an end for the Americans fighting in Europe. In a railway car in the French Forest of Compiègne, at 5 a.m., the German delegates accepted the strict terms of the armistice and at 11 o’clock that morning the world war came to an end.

Percy, Ernest, George and Harvey West of Setauket all served during World War I. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

President Woodrow Wilson that morning issued a proclamation that said, “My fellow countrymen. The armistice was signed this morning. Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by example, by sober friendly council and by material aid in the establishment of just democracy throughout the world.”

The men and women who served in “the war to end all wars” were coming home. Many of the soldiers were suffering from what they called “shell shock.” Today we know it as post-traumatic stress or simply PTS. Other world war soldiers were gassed. In many of these cases soldiers came home without revealing their need for help. In other cases, soldiers were treated and released back into civilian life with or without continued care. Many soldiers never recovered from their wartime experiences.

The following year, after the soldiers and sailors had returned home, a celebration, parade and memorial service was held Labor Day, Sept. 1, 1919. As reported by the Port Jefferson Times, “All Setauket was there and most of Long Island by the appearance, for long before the time scheduled for the start of the procession, automobiles began to line the road on either side. Promptly at 2:30 p.m. the 42nd Infantry Band from Camp Upton led the parade away from the dock at East Setauket.”

The parade continued along Shore Road from the harbor and then paused while the Rev. A.Y. Holter dedicated the new East Setauket Park in honor of those who served in the war. The parade then re-formed and proceeded up Main Street, turning right at the Methodist Church and continuing to the Village Green.

The parade brought out many local groups and some $5 gold pieces were awarded as prizes. The award for the best decorated carriage went to  Henry Smith of Setauket whose buggy was decorated with pumpkins and other farm products. One of the decorated trucks that didn’t win a prize was in the shape of a submarine chaser, with real guns mounted fore and aft. Among the groups that marched were the mechanics of Setauket and Port Jefferson and 70 or so soldiers and sailors who later posed for a picture on the Village Green. Others in the parade included a car filled with men who had fought in the Civil War, men on horseback, decorated trucks carrying members of various organizations and school children carrying a “Welcome Home” sign.

Muriel Hawkins, of East Setauket, daughter of Clinton West, remembered the parade and how her uncle Ernest West, who was a ship’s carpenter in the Navy, made seven trips across the Atlantic and back during the war. Ernest was one of four brothers who served during the war. The other three, George, Harvey and Percy were in the Army. All four were the sons of Setauket blacksmith Samuel West and all four returned, in some cases with mental and physical scars that would last the rest of their lives. There was, however, a lot of family support as their father, Samuel West raised 10 children, with help from his own extended family, as his wife, Ida Hulse West, died after the delivery of their 10th child.

A young Forest West, born June 19, 1910, wears a child’s World War I uniform with his Uncle Harvey West on Bayview Avenue, East Setauket, looking north. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

Percy Hulse West was born July 18, 1889, and enlisted in the U.S. Army April 13, 1917. The War Department telegram written Oct. 21, 1918, to his father says, “Deeply regret to inform you that it is officially reported that Private Percy H. West, Infantry was severely wounded in action about August twenty-eight [actually July 10]. Department has no further information. Harris, Acting Adjutant General.” Over the next few months, Percy was transferred to a number of different Army hospitals including Army Hospital No. 3, Rahway, New Jersey. 

On Nov. 5, 1918, Clinton West, Town of Brookhaven justice of the peace and Percy’s brother, wrote to Maj. Fayermather at the hospital requesting information “regarding the revoking of the furlough of my brother Private Percy H. West. Father was quite upset as this was Percy’s only furlough since his enlistment in May, 1917. He being the first of our local boys to return from active front line service and crippled, we had planned to give him a good time and a chance to visit his relatives and friends …” On Nov.18, 1918, Samuel West, Percy’s father wrote to Capt. Sellers to request “that Percy might be allowed a little time to see his people [in East Setauket] after the service he has rendered his country.” Additional letters from Selah Strong and H.G. Rogers were received at the hospital with the same requests.

Percy did return after he was discharged March 3, 1919, as he is pictured in the photo of the celebration on the Setauket Village Green Sept. 1, 1919, as well as a family photo taken the same day with his father and his other three brothers who served in the war.

The following year, the 1920 census lists Percy as living at “Mattawan State Hospital, Beacon, Dutchess County, NY.” In the 1930 census report, Percy was living as a boarder with Fred and Lydia Bartoo (or Barton) in Oxford, Chenango, New York, where he was working at a golf course. Percy died July 6, 1957. Percy’s brother Ernest West returned to East Setauket and continued working there as a carpenter until his death in 1966. Percy’s brother Harvey West, in 1930, was a patient in the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital in Orange County. He later went to live with his brother George and Elsie West in Stratford, Connecticut. He died in 1967. George West, following World War I and his return home, lived the rest of his life in Connecticut, in 1920 with his sister Hazel West Jayne and her husband Robert Jayne. George married Elsie in 1922 and made his home in Stratford, Connecticut. He died in 1975.   

“World War I was the first ‘modern’ war. Industry enabled weapons and explosives to be manufactured in vast quantities that brought death and destruction on a scale never previously experienced by mankind and that affected all combatants. On Sept. 18, 1918, American Sgt. Charles S. Stevenson wrote: “This is the seventh day of the St. Mihiel drive and I find myself sitting in a thick, muddy forest, with my knees and a gas mask as a table, writing to you. It was some drive. Small, in comparison to many operations, to we rookies it was a real battle. Machine guns, rifles, shells, aeroplanes and tanks — everything you read about — I saw ’em all. We followed the first line (the attacking party) for twelve hours and ours was a sort
of ‘after the battle’ review. I saw all kinds of German trenches, barbed wire entanglements, busted houses, burning trees, deep shell holes, torn-up railroad tracks, peaceful gardens, dynamited bridges.All kinds of German prisoners passed me on the way back.” (Exhibition: Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: The Doughboys 1917-1918 — National World War I Museum, Kansas City, Missouri). This exhibit has been touring the world and is now at the Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois until Nov. 18.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Editor’s note: Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day in 1954.

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Bev Tyler stands behind his daughters and wife, Barbara, before a bicentennial celebration in 1976. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

Sometimes even a historian gets to enjoy a historic moment in his own life.

Historian Bev Tyler celebrates his 80th birthday at the Three Village Historical Society. Photo by Sandy White

Members of the Three Village Historical Society celebrated Beverly Tyler’s 80th birthday Aug. 15, a milestone the historian reached four days before. The society’s main office was fittingly the setting for the celebration as the organization has been a part of Tyler’s life for more than half of his 80 years.

In 1974, when he began to organize a local bicentennial committee in anticipation of July 4, 1976, Tyler said he joined the Three Village Historical Society. He asked Bill Minuse, the society’s president at the time, for seed money, and the members agreed to donate $1,000. During the two years of the committee’s existence, the members worked on projects that included planting Bradford pear trees along Route 25A from the Stony Brook train station to the memorial park in East Setauket and placing a memorial stone in front of St. James R.C. Church. The committee also published the “Three Village Guidebook” written by Howard Klein and illustrated by Patricia Windrow, which provided a summary of the historic neighborhoods in the area.

It was during this bicentennial year that Tyler first wrote for this newspaper, when it was known as The Village Times, to promote the committee. Later, he wrote biweekly history articles for once competitor The Three Village Herald, and after the two papers merged, he became the history columnist in 2002 for The Village Times Herald, as he is to this day.

During his decades with the historical society, Tyler said he has served in many capacities including president, chairman and newsletter editor. He became historian in 2003, when he began working with historical society education director Donna Smith.

“Bev has been instrumental in bringing local history to our students in Three Village through his program Founder’s Day and his field trips for students across Long Island about the Culper spies,” Smith said. “He relates so well to the students, from fourth grade to high school.”

A love for local history was instilled early in Tyler’s life — a passion he credits to his family and living in Setauket.

“This was always a community where history was right there in the forefront,” he said.

Bev Tyler in the early 1950s. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

While the historian’s family tree has deep roots in the Three Village area, Tyler was born in Brooklyn at Methodist Episcopal Hospital in 1938. He said his parents moved back to their family home in Setauket when he was a year old. His father, a violinist, had moved to the city in hopes of finding work as a musician. When his father couldn’t find enough work, the family moved back, and they lived with Tyler’s grandmother until he was 11.

The historian said they soon moved to the family’s house on Main Street across from the post office where his mother lived until her passing in 2016 at 102 years old. After graduating from Setauket Elementary School, when it was open to students from kindergarten through ninth grade, he attended Stony Brook Boys School. He said his grandmother had written a letter to the school administrators when he was 3 or 4 asking them to hold a spot open for him. However, he said he didn’t like the school and then attended Port Jefferson High School for a year. The historian, who has written a number of books, admitted he was a lousy student, who didn’t even like history class because he said it felt like it was just about wars and dates.

“I wasn’t interested in school because it was too easy,” he said. “So, I read. I read voraciously.”

During his brief stint at Port Jefferson High School, he played in the school band with his now wife, Barbara, but he said they didn’t know each other well.

“She played the saxophone, and I played trumpet,” he said. “She didn’t like trumpet players because we always sat behind the saxophones.”

Tyler said he eventually attended and graduated from the military school Admiral Farragut Academy in Pine Beach, New Jersey, on the banks of the Toms River in 1957. He started dating Barbara in 1960 after they met once again at the Port Jefferson Yacht Club, where Tyler was running the club’s launch.

Tyler’s military education came into play when he joined the Navy. He served for two years and was a reservist for eight. The quartermaster, who worked on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, said he fell in love with travel while in the armed forces.

 Bev Tyler with Donna Smith, left, and Lindsey Steward, right, in the Nassakeag Schoolhouse on the grounds of the Long Island Museum in 2016. Photo by Heidi Sutton

“I took advantage of every single chance I could get,” he said. “I went to Rome, Paris, Venice, Lake Como, Barcelona, Madrid, Greece.”

His time on the high seas though would soon be replaced with a career in the air. After he graduated from SUNY Farmingdale with an associate degree in photographic technology, and a short stint as a photo chemist for a photography manufacturing company, he decided to get his private and commercial pilot licenses. Tyler said he worked at MacArthur Airport for an air service, and about a year or two later he applied to the Federal Aviation Administration to be an air traffic controller — a job he held from 1968 until he retired Jan. 3, 2002.

Tyler and his wife have two daughters — Jen, who now lives in North Carolina with her husband, and Amy, who runs Amy Tyler School of Dance and Harbor Ballet Theater in Port Jefferson. They also have eight grandchildren.

The historian said he is currently focusing his research on the shipbuilding era, 1844–1880, and the Revolutionary War, especially the Setauket Culper spies. When it comes to his favorite spy, the historian said it’s Caleb Brewster, who carried messages from Benjamin Tallmadge in New York City to the spies on Long Island.

“[Brewster] is self-starting and a risk-taker, and he is fearless and a proven leader who takes care of his men and follows orders well,” Tyler said.

When it comes to reaching the milestone of 80, Tyler has simple advice for those who want to follow in his footsteps.

“Do things you enjoy and enjoy things you do,” he said.

By Beverly C. Tyler

Telling stories about the men and women of the Culper Spy Ring and portraying Setauket spy leader Abraham Woodhull has been one way for me to bring local history to life for both residents and visitors to this area. Reading about the Culper spies is also important, so I have written a number of articles and recommended books that tell the story. I have recently read and enthusiastically recommend “Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” for children of all ages.

The cover of Dana Lynn Zotter’s first children’s book.

Written and illustrated by Dana Lynn Zotter, this 174-page soft-cover book tells the story of two children, Kayleigh and Connor, who spend their last week of summer vacation visiting their great-grandparents in Stony Brook who live in a historic house that holds all kinds of secrets. 

When the children find a gravestone with the name KING engraved on it in the roots of an old tree, their great-grandfather tells them that there was once a legendary spy dog named King in the area who has appeared as a ghost. The siblings meet a local boy and, as detailed on the back cover, “Three children search for the truth about ghosts, legends, and Long Island’s Culper Spies.”

Zotter has woven a delightful tale of a family and their experiences in the Long Island communities of Stony Brook, Setauket and Port Jefferson together with an accurate portrayal of the men and women involved in the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring. This well-crafted story vividly transports the reader to the historic hamlet of Stony Brook where the children explore their great-grandparents’ Colonial-era home and the shoreline of this picturesque community.

As Kayleigh and Connor explore, they discover mysteries connected with the house and the community, including an appearing and disappearing black dog named King. Agreeing to become detectives and follow the clues, the children discover how the Culper spies operated and how King the spy dog became an important member of the Culper Spy Ring.

Their travels take them along West Meadow Creek and as far as the Village of Port Jefferson where they meet General Lafayette on a recreated 18th-century French warship, which actually visited Greenport in 2015. At one point the children are mysteriously transported back to the Revolutionary War and join the Culper spies and King the spy dog on a brief spy adventure.

The Setauket Presbyterian Church and cemetery

“Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” features 22 illustrations, including a recipe for invisible ink and a spy code, along with a list of historic places to visit. The drawings, including one of the Setauket Presbyterian Church and cemetery, help bring the story to life without taking away from the writing, allowing readers full use of their imaginations. I enjoyed the story and easily identified with the characters. 

Dana Lynn Zotter, who describes herself as a gardener, poet, artist and finder of four-leaf clovers, has crafted a wonderful story that will delight children and make historians smile.

“Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” is available at the Three Village Historical Society’s gift shop, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Author Beverly C. Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and pens a biweekly column in the Village Times Herald titled History Close at Hand. 

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Donna Smith, left, education director with Three Village Historical Society, explains to students the use of codes during the Revolutionary War. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Fifteen summer camp students ranging in age from 11 to 13, from Campus Camps in Oakdale, under the direction of Ashleigh Frezza, director, came to Setauket for a half-day spy school at the Three Village Historical Society’s history center. The students were ready to discover the story of the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring and to explore how the ring operated during the British occupation of Long Island and Manhattan.

A student presents the results of her work to others during the spy school program at Three Village Historical Society. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

The spy school program was designed to introduce students to each of the five main spies in the spy ring and how they operated between 1778 and 1783. Following a short PowerPoint presentation on the Culper Spy Ring, the students were divided into three groups. Each group of five students, together with an education leader, were provided with specific details of the operation of the spy ring. They studied the information until they understood the ring and were able to write about it and make presentations to the entire camp group at the end of the session.

The first group learned about each of the five principal members of the spy ring: Benjamin Tallmadge, Abraham Woodhull, Robert Townsend, Austin Roe and Caleb Brewster as well as the most important female who aided the ring, Anna Smith Strong. They also dressed in some of the clothing of the period and learned about a number of everyday items used and enjoyed by Long Islanders. When the entire camp met, each student, portraying a specific member of the spy ring, gave clues to the students in the other groups to see how long it would take to discover their identity.

The second group provided information about five various codes used during the Revolutionary War period, and the other students had to decipher a simple message presented by each student.

“They loved the codes and wanted more samples to decode,” said Donna Smith, TVHS education director. “I think they appreciated how long it might take to write a message in code and even to decode some of them.”

“I really enjoyed seeing how they were able to make predictions and were genuinely surprised when they realized how different the results were.”

— Lindsey Steward

The third group working with three different invisible ink liquids — lemon juice, milk and a solution of baking soda — presented their hypnosis as to which would prove to be the most effective invisible ink and their individual findings when they finished the experiment.

“I really enjoyed seeing how they were able to make predictions and were genuinely surprised when they realized how different the results were,” said Lindsey Steward, spy school leader.

Following the presentations, the students and their leaders went on a field trip to the Setauket Presbyterian Church graveyard and the Setauket Village Green. Here the students learned about conditions in Setauket and the Town of Brookhaven during the Revolutionary War. They explored part of the cemetery with special emphasis on the grave of Abraham Woodhull and the other Revolutionary War-era family sections that make up the earliest part of the graveyard. As they were leaving, I asked one student what she liked best about the day.

“I liked the trip to the cemetery, I liked everything,” the student said.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

‘NATURE’S BEST SHOW’

Beverly C. Tyler of East Setauket snapped this beautiful sunset photo from the Mount Sinai Harbor entrance at the end of Harbor Beach Road at Cedar Beach on June 4 using his iPhone. He writes, “The fishing pier is a popular spot to fish, to walk and enjoy the view and watch the sunsets. This is a popular spot for lovers to hold hands in the evening and watch nature’s best show.”

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

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The Tyler Brothers General Store once housed the Setauket post office. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

My great-aunt Annie, Anna Louise Tyler (1863–1943) lived her entire life in the house I grew up in on the corner of Main Street and Old Field Road in Setauket. For more than 80 years, from about 1850 to 1931, the Tyler Brothers General Store stood on the same corner in front of the house close to the road. For all those years the Tylers also served as postmasters, and the post office was located in the general store.

Anna Louise Tyler, center, was an early postmaster, while her sister Corinne, right, ran the general store. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

Anna Tyler was appointed Setauket’s 11th postmaster Nov. 12, 1897, and she served the community until 1915. At the time of her appointment, she was 34 years old. She was the niece of Capt. Israel Bennett Tyler (1830–1895) who served as postmaster 19 years from 1870 to 1885 and again from 1889 to 1893.

In 1895, after the death of Israel Tyler, Capt. Charles Tyler, my great-grandfather, carried on the store until two years before his death, when he became ill and passed away June 12, 1899. From 1897 on, the post office and store were run by Annie and Corinne Frances Tyler, spinster daughters of Capt. Charles Tyler.

The mail was brought to Stony Brook and Setauket by the Long Island Rail Road. For most of that time, mail was delivered twice a day. It was carried to the store and post office and handed to Annie Tyler for many years by Adolph Pfeiffer who began mail service with a horse and wagon. In the winter months, he used a horse and sleigh. According to an article in the Three Village Herald in 1965, “Occasionally when the roads were almost impassable, the mail was taken by Mr. Pfeiffer on horseback, or even on foot — pulling the bags on a sled. Later with the advent of the automobile, he became agent for the Franklin automobile, and these as well as other makes of cars were used for transporting the mail.”

The entrance to the post office in the West Setauket store was through a side door on the left (north) side of the building. The northern third of the store was the post office and the remainder, from the front door over, was the general store. Annie Tyler was postmaster and her sister Corinne (1858–1941) ran the general store.

The general store was the center of the small community, which included about 100 families and numbered less than 800 people. The school on the Village Green, the churches and the new library around the Green and the grist mill on the lower pond were also a part of the community’s hub. The general store and post office building was a center for communication and gossip as well as a place to tell stories and swap
information about the latest farm equipment, the weather and, of course, politics.

“We were a big family, and we was always down there. Sometimes Poppa paid once a week. They kept track of it and I could get anything. They never asked no questions.”

— Lucy Keyes

Telephone lines were first installed from a central office in Northport in 1896. In the last few months of 1899, central offices were established in Port Jefferson and Smithtown. According to historian Kate Strong, the first telephone subscribers in Setauket were her father Selah B. Strong, her uncle Thomas S. Strong, Annie Tyler’s store and the Setauket railroad depot.

Lucy Keyes, who was born in 1900, remembered in a 1989 interview that when she was 6 or 7 and going to school on the Village Green, she would walk home, stopping first at the post office.

“They were such nice ladies,” Keyes said. “Miss Annie took care of the mail … Miss Annie used to make money orders and everything … We went there to pay land taxes.

“Miss Corinne took care of the store. They kept it open even during lunch — Miss Corinne and Miss Annie switched. It was open until after mail at night. There were two mails — a morning and an
evening mail. We used to trade with Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. It came in the mail.”

Keyes recalled that Corinne’s brother Henry Tyler helped her at the store.

“Momma and Poppa brought all their groceries there,” Keyes said. “We bought canned goods, salt pork, potatoes, bread and even bananas in later years. We were a big family, and we was always down there. Sometimes Poppa paid once a week. They kept track of it and I could get anything. They never asked no questions.”

Lucy Keyes was one of 12 children of Jacob and Hannah Hart born between about 1880 and 1910. An 1889 “day book” for the “Tyler Bro” store lists “Jacob Hartt” 34 times in a two-month period. One entry included “1 box blueing, 1 jelly roll, 4 barrels, 3 butter tubs, 1 box, 1 bag flour, 5 candles, 1 loaf bread, 1 bot. vinegar, 1 lb lard,” all for $2.42.

Keyes remembered a candy case in the store that contained a number of selections.

“You would get four or five round things for a penny,” she said. “Jawbreakers, three or four for a penny; and stick candy was a penny a stick.”

By 1915, the automobile was beginning to change the buying habits of local residents who found a wider range of goods and services in specialty stores. The telephone was bringing gossip and information directly into the home, and Parcel Post was bringing catalog shopping into the home. The post office in Setauket was also becoming an independent operation and would soon outgrow the general store where it had coexisted for so many years.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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A 1780 map depicts Long Island during Revolutionary War times. Image from the Library of Congress

By Beverly C. Tyler

As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, July 4, it is fitting to reflect on the actions of some of the men and women who helped win our independence.

The Revolutionary War had a great effect on the residents of Long Island. After the Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776, many Long Islanders, especially in Suffolk County, received it enthusiastically. Their enthusiasm was short-lived, however, for on Aug. 27, 1776, the British took possession of New York City, following the Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn, and with its possession of all of Long Island. The residents were to be under British control for the next seven years.

“Since my arrival at camp I have had as large an allowance of fighting as I could, in a serious mood, wish for.”

— Benjamin Tallmadge

A large number of Long Island Patriots fled to Connecticut and became refugees, giving up their lands, homes and most of their possessions. Those who stayed lived under often harsh, military rule. The residents were forced to provide whatever His Majesty’s forces needed. Cattle, feed, grains, food, wagons and horses, especially cordwood for fuel was taken, and in most cases, not paid for. Long Island was virtually stripped of its mature trees during the first three to five years of the war to supply lumber and fuel for New York City.

In addition to suffering at the hands of the British, many Long Islanders were also considered fair game by their former friends and neighbors in Connecticut who would cross the Sound to harass the British, steal supplies, destroy material the British might use and take captives. The captives were often taken in exchange for the Patriots captured by the British.

Benjamin Tallmadge, Gen. George Washington’s chief of intelligence from the summer of 1778 until the end of the Revolutionary War, was born and spent his youth in Setauket, Long Island. Following four years at Yale College in New Haven and a year teaching in Wethersfield, Connecticut, Tallmadge joined the Continental Army. He took an active part in the Battle of Brooklyn and progressed rapidly in rank. As a captain in the 2nd Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons — Washington’s first fast attack force mounted on horses — Tallmadge came under Washington’s notice. By December of 1776, Washington had asked Tallmadge, in addition to his dragoon responsibilities, to gather intelligence from various spies on Long Island. In 1777 Tallmadge coordinated and received intelligence from individual spies on Long Island. (See History Close at Hand article published in The Village Times Herald May 10 edition.)

To memorialize one of the Culper spies, a polychrome statue of Benjamin Tallmadge sits on the peak of the Setauket School gymnasium. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Tallmadge was promoted to the rank of major April 7, 1777. In June Tallmadge’s troop, composed entirely of dapple gray horses, left their base at Litchfield, Connecticut, and proceeded to New Jersey where Washington reviewed the detachment and complimented Tallmadge on the appearance of his horsemen.

Washington gave the troops of the 2nd Regiment little chance to rest after they came to headquarters, and Tallmadge wrote, “Since my arrival at camp I have had as large an allowance of fighting as I could, in a serious mood, wish for.”

In September and October, Tallmadge took part in the Battle of Germantown. In November of 1777, when the American army finally went into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Tallmadge was ordered, “with a respectable detachment of dragoons,” to act as an advance corps of observation.

During these maneuvers into the no-mans-land area between the American and British lines around Philadelphia, Tallmadge again engaged in obtaining intelligence of the enemy’s movements and plans.

In January of 1778, the 2nd Regiment of Light Dragoons was ordered to Trenton, New Jersey, where the other cavalry regiments were assembling to spend the winter. Throughout the spring, Tallmadge waited for action. In June the 2nd Regiment was assigned to take up a position in advance of the American lines near Dobbs Ferry. In July Washington returned to the Hudson Valley with most of his army. With the arrival of the French fleet under Count d’Estaing in July, the pressing need for organized military intelligence could no longer be avoided. Officers, and especially dragoon officers, were encouraged to find intelligent correspondents who could furnish reliable information to American headquarters.

During the summer of 1778, Tallmadge was able to establish, with Washington’s approval, a chain of American spies on Long Island and in New York, the now recognized Culper Spy Ring, feeding information through Setauket, across Long Island Sound to Fairfield, Connecticut, and by mounted dragoon to Washington’s headquarters. Despite Tallmadge’s important role in the formation of the spying operation, his duties as field officer of the 2nd Regiment took most of his time during the summer and fall of 1778. The men and women who made the spy ring function lived in constant danger in both British and Patriot territory. We owe them the greatest respect and honor we can offer, especially on July 4.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.